Monday, December 31, 2007

Wyoming could learn from Montana: Part 1

Rowberry Leaps
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
With the exception of walking over to my nearby Powell Panther football games on a couple of Friday nights, this past football season found me documenting small town high school football exclusively in Montana. It wasn't on purpose, it just turned out that way.

Or maybe it was on purpose.

In 2006, I attended only one Wyoming football game and the years before that, just a couple during any one season. Only in 2001 did I attend games exclusively in Wyoming.

Looking back on this record, I can only surmise that the reason I've attended more Montana high school games than those in Wyoming is because Montana's games are simply better.

There, I said it. I reckon this guarantees me a last-place finish for any popularity contests in the Cowboy State (where I reside). Regardless, I hope no one will take it personally, but rather think of it as only a critique that might be taken into consideration when the powers that be think about improving the game of football in Wyoming's high schools.

And, before you go and totally dismiss my opinion, give me some credit for having attended a fair share of games in both states—not just some ridiculous conclusions based on a few visits.

Of course, I can't just stop here without defending my opinion, so I'll explain my rationale.

Montana high school football is better than Wyoming high school football; Part 1

All Montana games are played either on Friday night or Saturday afternoon—regardless of class. The only exception comes during the last week of the regular season (the beginning of the hunting season?) when many games are played on Wednesday because there is no school on Thursday and Friday.

The point I want to make here is that many Montana games are played Saturday afternoon—for those smaller schools and communities that don't have floodlights. Given any Saturday during the football season, there are typically over 20 games scheduled in Montana.

On the other hand, many schools in Wyoming without lights play on Friday afternoon. And a few schools even play Thursday afternoons or Thursday nights because they don't have classes on Fridays! As far as high school football goes, that's practically sacrilege in my opinion. If a school doesn't have classes on Friday, that's no reason to move its home games to Thursday afternoon or evening. Most everyone outside of the school still has another weekday of work (Friday) and who wants to go to a high school football game on a Thursday night and still expect to find the same "magic" in the air as a Friday night game? Of course having a game on Thursday afternoon is even more offensive and moving them to Friday afternoon is no better.

So why are so few (if any) Wyoming high schools playing on Saturday afternoons—referring to those schools that don't possess floodlights? Some have speculated that doing so would be interpreted as a disloyal act directed toward the University of Wyoming and its Saturday afternoon games in Laramie. If true, I find it incredible that attendance at a UW football game would suffer if communities like Burlington have their football games on Saturday afternoons as well. What of all of the Saturday high school games in Montana that are held when there are up to six Montana colleges hosting Saturday games including the University of Montana and Montana State University? Further, Montana's five high school championship games are typically played the same afternoon as the annual Cat and Griz (U of M and MSU) face-off!

From my vantage point, it doesn't seem to be very community-friendly when games are scheduled at anytime on Thursdays or a Friday afternoon. This would seem to be especially poignant in the smaller communities. The only people that are likely to get off work (in the case of weekday afternoon games) are family members of the players and members of the school community. Scheduling compromises such as this will surely be the demise of high school football just like churches would find dwindling membership if they suddenly started holding services on Saturday instead of Sunday mornings. And in a state that has the lowest population in the country, adhering to conventional Friday night football (or Saturday afternoons) is paramount.

As big a fan as I am, it's nearly impossible for me to travel to Wind River High School (located in in Pavillion, Wyoming, only a 3-hour drive) for a Thursday afternoon or evening game unless I make some major adjustments to my work schedule. However, I can easily make it to Rudyard, Montana (about an 8 hour drive up on the Hi-Line) for any Saturday afternoon game.

I wonder now if these scheduling cacophonies in Wyoming high school football have retarded attendance in the smaller towns already? Surely the game's allur has lost its luster, and if continued, might such alternate scheduling be the beginning of the end for the future of small town high school football in Wyoming?

Next up, Part 2 in the argument for Montana's superior high school football program.


Patrick Schmiedt said...

Morgan, although you bring up some great points, I feel compelled to defend the honor of my home state.... :)

First, there are no schools in Wyoming that consistently play on Thursdays. I looked back at the past two years and there have only been 11 Thursday games (six in 2007, five in 2006), while there were eight Saturday games (two in 2007, six in 2006). There were another six Saturday games in 2005 (those counts don't include the games played by Meeteetse and Ten Sleep).

Schools aren't opting to play on Thursdays instead of Saturdays. Mostly, they're opting to play on Fridays over both Thursdays and Saturdays.

The question then becomes why schools without lights play on Friday afternoons instead of Saturday afternoons. That, I can't totally explain. In part, I think it's tradition (you know, "We've always played on Friday!" and in Wyoming, they truly have). In part, I think it has to do with UW, which has a much stronger pull in Wyoming than any college football does in Montana, an influence I think you underestimate.

I do think it's unfair to compare the "over 20 games scheduled" on Saturday in Montana to Wyoming's Saturday schedule. Of course Wyoming won't have 20 high school games on a Saturday! Wyoming only has 59 football schools, including Meeteetse and Ten Sleep. Twenty games would mean 40 teams in action, more than 2/3 of the schools in the state..... Montana has almost 150 high school football teams, and has many more small schools (those more apt to play on Saturday afternoons) than Wyoming does. If Montana has 40 teams in action on Saturday, it's only about 1/4 of the state's schools. For 1/4 of Wyoming schools to play on a Saturday, there would only be about seven or eight Saturday games. Apples and oranges.

I'm rambling now, so I'll stop. All that said, you're doing great work. Keep it up, and we'll see what points of yours I can refute in Part 2. :)

Thanks for doing this. It's a great project and you've really done well with it.


Morgan said...

Patrick, thanks for weighing in. You make some good points and yes, there are fewer teams in Wyoming than Montana, so fewer games would be offered on any given Saturday even if that was the only alternative to Friday nights. So, that shoots some of my theory down. Nevertheless, I'd gladly take those 6-8 games outside of Friday night scheduling and have them offered only on Saturday so those with conventional jobs (M-F) and/or from farther away could attend.

Interesting numbers you came up with although they are probably too few to draw up any kind of conclusions regarding a "trend" in scheduling: Thursday games increased by 2 between 2006 and 2007 while Saturday games went down by 4 in the same years. Hopefully next year's schedules will start going back the other way.

You could be right about UW's "pull," but I think any Griz or Cat fan would disagree with you. Might they counter by saying that they simply value high school football as much as college football? Well, anyway I can't speak for them. Perhaps someone from Montana will chime in about this.

Thanks for doing the legwork on the Thursday/Saturday game history. That's good stuff to know.

Anonymous said...

can't remember my password so will post as Anonymous (JoeRob). I'm from Montana, Helena in fact, and I hate Saturday afternoon high school football, because I not only am a Griz season ticket holder, but if not in Mizzoula for a Griz game, am tailgating at a Carroll game here in Helena watching the incredible Fighting Saints.Between those two I don't have many "free" Saturday afternoons in September and October. I love to get out and see some of the high school teams and the only chance I get is when they play on a Friday or, rarely, Wednesday night. (BTW, the Wednesday schedule is when schools have a short week due to the state-wide teacher assemblies that occur in the fall).
I understand your dilemma Morgan but just wanted to give a different perspective. There's a bunch of us that find the Saturday high school schedule pretty much precludes us from attending and enjoying the game on the high school level.

Morgan said...

Well, there's that Montana opinion I was looking for. Thanks JoeRob. So, should I assume you'd rather have the Saturday games moved to Friday afternoon? or would you simply like to see everyone playing Friday nights, period?

Patrick Schmiedt said...


I'm with you, I'd be more than thrilled to see a handful of high school games on Saturday afternoons here in Wyoming. DEFINITELY Saturday rather than Thursday. Thursday just feels wrong.

Went back a little further and did some more counting, too (not counting 6-man games):

2005: 7 Thursday games, 6 Saturday games

2004: 9 Thursday games, 6 Saturday games (eight of the nine Thursday games were in the last week of the regular season)

2003: 9 Thursday games, 5 Saturday games

2002: 3 Thursday games, 4 Saturday games

2001: 4 Thursday games, 8 Saturday games

2000: 11 Thursday games, 25 Saturday games (several games moved to either Saturdays or even Tuesdays due to a snowstorm mid-season)

2001 was when the WHSAA took over football scheduling statewide. They don't mandate that teams play on any certain day of the week, but most schools have gone to Fridays. Also worth noting that many of those Saturday games played in 2000 were varsity teams against JVs, something that used to happen a lot but now is almost completely nonexistent thanks to the WHSAA scheduling.

For what it's worth, 41 of Wyoming's 57 11-man schools have lights on their football field....